Several months ago I went on an interactive design one day workshop at Ustwo studios in Shoreditch. The workshop was organised by the IT as a Utility network+, who recognised the need for design as part of making research useful to society.
Ustwo are the fab studio who brought the wonderful Monument Valley into being, a perceptual puzzle game that I got enchanted by (and stuck on) for several months. What I love about the game is that how you do seems to depend on the mood you’re in – to play it and progress you need to slow down, chill, see things from different perspectives and doors to new places start to open.
My past 18 months as a Wellcome Trust Engagement fellow have very much been like that. I’ve been lucky enough to explore a range of experiences that have drawn on different ways of thinking, doing, being and collaborating. This has ranged from informing science and tech policy in Austria, to developing the concept and engagement for a citizen science game with the Museum of Science & Industry, to participating in storythons to prototyping new interactive experiences and volunteering on a festival and a farm.
I’ve hooked up with an international community mapping network and uncovered green tourism in Malmo (see video above), learned from online and face-to-face courses and worked on several interdisciplinary research projects with researchers from Manchester, Sheffield and Southampton… and told stories through films and talks.
And if that were not enough, I’ve hung out with and learned from social change artists, storytellers, producers and designers through conferences and residencies to evolve my practise, including time spent with the fabulous and inspirational Prof Helen Storey & Caroline Coates of the Helen Storey Foundation. Plus, I got to spend time on the Autumnwatch set at the glorious Leighton Moss, RSPB centre, home to otters, red deer, birds and many other species – and a wonderful place for humans to learn from, get inspired by and nurtured by nature.
My Fellowship comes to an end in September next year and in the last year, I’ll be exploring the contexts in which I might apply what I’ve absorbed to greatest effect, including Lab13 where kids have their own space to explore science. Many people ask to be rewarded to do public engagement – but the reward truly is the journey: meeting people, gaining new insights, exploring new contexts and re-shaping my ideas, language and practice in response. Imagine that i got to film on not one mountain, but two!
The first time, on the border of France and Switzerland, as part of Team Swarm at the Tribeca Film Institute interactive science and storytelling storython. We wound our way up the mountain by car to shoot the scene from the car. We stopped en route to the top and threw snowballs. The second time, we walked up the mountain in Coniston, the lake district, guided by Mountain rescuer, Pat Coniston.
Of course, the time and space from having a fellowship helps (thank you, thank you Wellcome Trust peeps!) and having an open and flexible attitude is important too. This hackathon in Malmo (see video below) was a turning point for me – participating, creating and critiquing through making and storytelling.
I feel my head, heart and spirit are truly enriched and ready to turn a new chapter into areas quite unknown and previously unimagined (to me at least). A starting point are three words – space, time and justice – to guide me to express my practice in a range of cultural forms and settings. I know my strengths, have new strategies to deal with my weaknesses and a wealth of experiences and renewed resilience to face new challenges. Thankfully I also have a crowd of friends, mentors, networks and collaborators, old and new, to who I am extremely grateful i could turn to in moments when i was confused, lost and hungry for success.
A stand out moment for me was witnessing the Shakespeare Forum in New York where practitioners, in this case, actors, transform, before your eyes as they perform and re-perform a shakespeare monologue to an engaged audience who cooperate to critique the performance, with due care for the person on stage. The actors and the audiences quite literally come to life. And when it’s over, 60 to 70 people hang out together as they slowly come down from the high of being illuminated and connected through performance.
And another, was joining in at The Citizen Cyber Summit – i felt like I’d come home – finding people using research to serve and partner with, rather than confuse, isolate and exclude society. Here, encouraging participation rather than striking up competition, was celebrated. This gave me courage and confidence. And the route to that conference was meeting Muki Hakly at a research network, ITaaU event at the Open Data Institute in London.
In a way, the fellowship has been a slowed down series of those kinds of moments and has created a new confidence in perceiving and crafting the future. What Shakespeare Forum encapsulates for me, is leadership development in the presence and under the influence of others. I think this is very different notion to how we are educated – at school and at University – and for me alludes to this growing need to organize and develop beyond institutional and national boundaries.
With that in mind, i know none of these opportunities happened by magic – thank you for those connectors, channels, networks and facilitators who create opportunities for people.
And so, a new adventure begins… and the goal is
that it goes well beyond me and my networks. to leave a far reaching legacy. x